Time is wasted with Hours-of-Service rules

An analysis from Jay Thompson at the Gerson Lehrman Group correctly points out the problems with the new Hours-of-Service regulations proposed just before Christmas by the Dept. of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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The rule requires time – something that is in short supply in an industry trying to meet deadlines.

“It’s one of those things where we try to balance highway safety against driver health against driver income against driver happiness (miles and home time),” Thompson wrote. “As one who follows and tries to make sense out of numbers, improving safety numbers from where we are now is extremely difficult. The other main ingredient in truck safety is the drivers’ attitude, which these rules have us potentially going in the wrong direction.”

Thompson has a number of issues, but it all comes down to time. While DOT didn’t make the changes many expected - specifically a set 48-hour restart period – it came close to doing that under the guise of the 34-hour restart by mandating two consecutive rest periods between midnight and 6 a.m.

Based on my math, that means the only way you can have a 34-hour restart would be if a driver could manipulate their hours to end work exactly at 8 p.m. Anything before that simply extends the restart window to many more hours up to 48.

(Click here for more coverage of Hours-of-Service from Fleet Owner)

“The 34-hour restart rule must now include 2-periods between midnight and 6 a.m., which forces one to sleep when they may not be able to. It also penalizes a driver if they are off another period in the week,” Thompson writes.

The added time to a driver’s week has another impact, Thompson concludes.

“If truckers lose a half hour a day in driving time, that’ll be at least a hundred miles per week - or a penny & a half per mile lost by the truck owner and a 4% pay cut for drivers. For profitable fleets like Swift Transportation, Schneider National, US Xpress Enterprises, Werner Enterprises, Estes Express and others, it can be a minimum 10% addition to the [operating revenue]. For others like YRC Worldwide and Arkansas Best Corp, it’s all of their buffer.

Thompson hints that fleets may look for ways around this, including speeding trucks up to get more miles covered in a given shift. That, he says, will result in more fuel usage and increased potential for accidents.

“The real winners are the software and device makers that will monitor all this time stuff - and truck stops with more driver face-time who can sell more stuff,” Thompson says. “For truckers, it looks like lots of gotcha’s with questionable returns on safety. Even the insurance folks are looking at all this warily. Regardless this time, time does not look to be on our side.”

Thompson is just the latest in a line of individuals and organizations, including the American Trucking Assns., who have criticized the proposed rule. For as long as it took for DOT to come out with the proposal, it’s looking more and more that additional time was needed.

While few were likely to be happy with any rule, it does appear that DOT will have plenty of comments to sift through on this one, and many of them will not be happy comments.

When I was getting started in journalism, a professor told me that if you write a story where everyone is unhappy, then you did your job well. Maybe in time, DOT will be proven right. It just may be a long road before we find out.

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